Falafel Loaf, and remedies for our stressful times

I had an idea of something different that I’d share here today but the past few weeks, with the news cycle, panic-stocking, and fear of a pandemic virus circulating, an entirely different reassurance presented itself to me this morning, so I’ll share it with you.

I was listening to a short meditative story on the goddesses of hearth and home, with the primary archetypes being Hestia or Vesta in Greek or Roman mythology. I was reminded that Hestia’s name means hearth, fire and alter, and that where we create warmth in our homes can also be our alters. Literally—where we create our meals can also be our sacred space.

So often when our minds run ahead or circulate around in fear or worry, it helps us to pull our energy down from that space, down from our head and into our body. This is partially why I find so much joy in athletic activity, as the meditation of physical movement is where my mind can more often turn off. And it’s partially why the kitchen is my favorite space in my home, the figurative center of the home, as it often is for those who love to cook.

For most of us, cooking and providing for ourselves and families are tasks that go on in the background of our lives, not tasks that we consider noteworthy or adventurous undertakings. But as Hestia’s name portrays, they can be powerful and sacred tasks, helping us to do what we’d otherwise avoid, drawing our minds down into our physical bodies, tuning into the senses of using our hands, noticing the smells, sounds and flavors of cooking.

As the onslaught of emails about immune health have reminded me in the past few days, combatting our daily stresses—literally not allowing the mind to run away into worries or coulds about the unknown future—is a powerful antidote to the weakening effects of that stress on our immune systems.

As the weather and temperature shifts into spring if you’re in the northern hemisphere, or fall in the southern, traditional medical wisdom tells us that now is a time when the shifting environmental patterns can invite in more physical or mental illness manifestations. I suspect this is contributing even more to the increasing anxiety and nervousness, and outright fear of our neighbors and community members that we’re currently facing.

The best remedies to combat the anxiety and fear are tuning into the body, acknowledging what it is feeling rather than running or distracting away from it, tuning into the senses, cooking nourishing meals, selecting an enjoyable kitchen playlist or podcast to invite in more relaxation, eating warming and nourishing foods, and deep breathing.

Falafel Loaf, serves about 4
-This is my current favorite meal to slowly harken in the flavors and ingredients that support our systems as we shift into spring: pungent vegetables like garlic and onion, spices to support moving the winter sluggishness from our liver and digestion including cumin, coriander, and cardamom, and ample herbs like cilantro for the same. If this particular herb is not your favorite, sub in parsley or mint instead.
-With all the flavors of falafel but with easier prep and the ability to put it in the oven and walk away for a while, I’m really loving this loaf-version of falafel. Plus, I find it allows me to focus on the side ingredients, which in a pinch are sauteed or braised cabbage, and the quick tahini sauce linked below.
– I haven’t tried making this without the egg since I’ve had limited success with egg-free veggie loaves or burgers staying together, but ground up chia or flax seeds would be my suggestion if that’s needed for you.


3 garlic cloves, peeled + roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
1 ¾ cup cooked chickpeas or 1 can, drained and drained
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. sea salt + more to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
¾ cup chickpea flour
¾ cup finely chopped cilantro

Suggestions to serve with:
Tahini Garlic Sauce
Socca
Lettuce and/or sautéed greens
Seasonal braised cabbage

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the garlic, onion, and spices, scraping down sides as needed, until coarsely chopped, 30-45 seconds. Then add the chickpeas and apple cider vinegar, and pulse again briefly. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper, baking soda, egg, chickpea flour and finely chopped cilantro. Gently stir to combine, being careful not to mash the mixture too much. Spoon the mixture into a 8 ½ x 4 in. loaf pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Smooth it down so its even, and then bake until the edges are browned and the center is completely set, about 60-70 minutes.
  4. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool at least 15-20 minutes, remove from the loaf pan onto a cutting board.
  5. To serve, cut into big slices and drizzle garlic tahini sauce on top, serve with greens, socca, or other sides of choice.

Blueberry Lavender Smoothie Bowls

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I have a big race planned for the morning of the 4th and am now in full on taper mode for the next few days. As anyone who has raced the marathon distance or longer knows, the taper period can be full of anxiety, pre-race nerves, last minute poor decisions, and all around stir-crazy-ness. This time around I haven’t had a big taper due to some training adjustments a few weeks back. It has also become my norm now to fit in my summer classes around the rest of my life so a lot of my otherwise “free” mornings, early evenings, and weekends are spent with my head in a gazillion research papers or on clinical nutrition cases. So all in all, I can’t complain about the current taper.

Even so, as is maybe obvious, I’m definitely prone to anxiety as my emotional go-to, and as the day grows nearer, I’m starting to have a little of that prickly circular overthinking creep in.

 

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At this point in my nutrition program, I’m close to being done on paper, but I’ve returned to taking minimal classes each term to retain some semblance of work-school-life balance so it will still be another year or so to finish. The classes I do have left are also the most intensive because we’re starting to pull all the pieces together and use them in clinical work. Lately, we’re focusing on nutrition for mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, and I was glad to see some good solid research supporting the use of lavender for anxiety symptoms.

 

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I created a lavender tincture for one of my herbal classes last year for this very reason and on certain days, nothing is so wonderful as opening the top just to let it’s floral aroma infuse into and calm my system. I also created a tincture formula that uses lavender for just this calming and grounding purpose, and there’s one more left in my online shop, if you’ve the mind.

Lavender, in addition to its ability to relieve nervous tension and anxiety, also helps with cognitive function and exhaustion. Its essential oils in the flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, and I find their aroma just lovely. The recipe below is one of my favorites for a mid-afternoon snack and it ups those anti-inflammatory abilities by packing in lots of blueberries, greens, and healthy nuts and seeds. The lavender really rounds out all the flavors and adds that calming touch.

 

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Blueberry Lavender Smoothie Bowl, makes 1
– Add culinary-grade lavender flowers or if available, 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. lavender extract/tincture.
– I’ve experimented with lots of plant-based protein powders and currently enjoy PlantFusion brand for its easy digestibility and fermented ingredients. Vega Sport and Garden of Life Sport are also good.
– If you make smoothies or smoothie bowls on the regular, keep in mind it’s wise to change up your choice of greens on the regular to get in all the good nutrients each type has to offer. 

1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup spinach or kale
20 grams/ half scoop vanilla plant-based protein, optional
3/4 – 1 tsp. dried lavender flowers
2 tsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. almond or sunflower butter
1/3 cup almond milk, or as needed to reach desired consistency
1 – 1 1/2 tsp. adaptogen powder of choice, optional

  • Combine all ingredients in a high speed blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add additional liquid to reach your desired consistency. I prefer mine spoon-able.